San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Araya Takes Early Lead

Former San José mayor and 2010 presidential candidate Johnny Araya would be president if the elections were held today, per a recent survey by the political consulting group Borge and Associates, published in the monthly political magazine Poder.

According to the poll, Araya was favored among current candidates in all parties by 23.2 percent of those surveyed, followed by fellow National Liberation Party (PLN) member and former Vice President and Justice Minister Laura Chinchilla, with 17.7 percent, while 30.2 percent of respondents picked “undecided.” Citizen Action Party (PAC) candidate Ottón Solís trailed a distant third with 5.9 percent.

The elections, however, won’t be held until February 2009 – meaning there is plenty of time for candidates to campaign, pundits to predict and perhaps a few surprises to emerge. The major political parties will hold their primary elections between May and August, and the field may look very different by the time the electoral horse race gears up later this year.

Historically, two parties, the PLN and the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), have dominated Costa Rican politics since 1948. For many politicos, the emergence in 2000 of the PAC as a major political force has come as a surprise.

The PAC first made its mark on the Costa Rican political scene in the 2006 national elections, when it captured one-third of the seats in the Legislative Assembly, while party founder Solís came within 18,000 votes of winning the presidency (TT, Feb. 24, 2006).

But the PAC, long dominated by its founder Solís, is currently undergoing something of an identity crisis. In his third campaign for the presidency, Solís faces a primary challenge by former party President Epsy Campbell, who aims to be Costa Rica’s first black president and, along with Chinchilla, its first woman president.

Campbell already has shaken things up in the PAC, demanding that the party hold an open primary to select its presidential candidate, which would allow any PAC sympathizer –and not just the 80 members of the party’s National Assembly– to vote in the primary without having to register as a party member.

In a compromise decision, the PAC decided to allow open party registration until April 30, with a primary election open only to those registered to be held May 31.

According to Borge and Associates, Campbell has support of 45.3 percent of those who will vote for the PAC, compared with 35.3 percent for Solís, with 17.8 percent undecided and 1.5 percent not responding. In the general election poll, however, Solís won 5.9 percent to Campbell’s 4.4.

A primary battle also looms for the PLN, which received a close scare when President Oscar Arias barely eked out a win over Solís in 2006. Both Araya and Chinchilla had to step down from their posts in government when they entered the race to succeed Arias, while Chinchilla has been endorsed by Arismo, or the Arias faction within the PLN.

According to Borge and Associates, however, Araya leads Chinchilla among PLN voters, 46.5 percent to 36 percent. Nearly 10 percent were undecided, and 7.9 percent said they would vote for none of the above.

Former Public Security Minister Fernando Berrocal, who resigned in March 2008, was not listed in the PLN primary survey, but finished fifth in the Borge and Associates general election poll, with 1.1 percent. Berrocal claims that he was pressured to resign by the Arias government after he alleged ties between unspecified political figures and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The PLN will hold municipal assemblies to select local delegates later this month, with provincial assemblies following shortly afterwards. The party will hold its convention to select its presidential candidate on June 7. The Social Christian Union Party (PUSC), traditionally the second-strongest party after the PLN, has seen its stock fade in recent years as two of the party’s ex-presidents, Rafael Angel Calderón and Miguel Angel Rodríguez, have been indicted on corruption charges. Calderón, however, will likely be the party’s leading candidate despite currently being on trial. He faces charges of accepting kickbacks for helping a Finnish medical equipment firm sell goods worth $39.5 million to the national public health care system. (TT, Oct. 31, 2008).

The PUSC will hold municipal assemblies on March 22, when they will elect five representatives from each municipality. For the first time, the assemblies will also select two individuals to analyze and create a new vision for the party. Potential candidates for the party’s nomination have until the end of April to announce their candidacies. In order to do so, each will require at least 40 supporters in each municipality. The convention to select the party’s candidate will be held in June.

The Libertarian Movement Party will also be holding its assembly this summer, in late July and early August. Its candidate, Otto Guevara, received 0.3 percent in the Borge and Associates general election poll.


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